Album Review: Greatest Radio Hits

Greatest Radio Hits, by Bruce Hornsby

It is often the case that when an artist is leaving their record label in the aftermath of a flop era that the label seeks to gain at least a little bit more income out of an artist by releasing a greatest hits compilation. As someone who tends to enjoy radio singles and find it far easier to appreciate singles than deeper album cuts, these sorts of albums are a goldmine in that they offer a chance for enjoying the peaks of an artist during their peak commercial success. There are understandably debates about whether or not Bruce Hornsby’s best work was with the Range or in his solo work (itself often with other artists or groups) or even as a somewhat underrecognized songwriter or sideman with the Grateful Dead. This particular disk seeks to more or less split the difference between his work with the Range and his first few solo albums by having ten songs with the Range, his most commercially successful work, along with a single from each of his first few solo records and a new song to make it appealing for those longtime fans.

The album begins, appropriately, with Hornsby’s biggest hit, “The Way It Is,” which more or less set the touchstone for Hornsby’s career as a popular artist. The song shows Hornsby’s accomplished work on the piano, always a highlight, as well as socially conscious lyrics that seek to present him as an ally of the civil rights struggle. This is followed by hit single “Mandolin Rain,” with more tasteful piano work, a melancholy mandolin, and a message about heartbreak that is relatable in all the saddest ways. This is followed by the third and final hit single Bruce Hornsby & The Range’s first album, “Every Little Kiss,” which like “Mandolin Rain” is a beautiful song full of longing about the love of one’s beloved partner who is nevertheless far away. “The Valley Road,” was the first single from the second album and it too manages to combine romantic melodrama about a woman good enough to have but not good enough to marry along with some delicately coded lyrics about abortion, subtle enough to become the band’s third and final top ten hit. “Look Out Any Window” was a popular enough song to hit the top 40, and it has some gorgeous instrumentation including a truly lovely piano intro, even if the song’s message was about pollution. This is followed by two songs that are most famous for being written by Bruce Hornsby, although they were massive hits for other artists, “Jacob’s Ladder” for Huey Lewis & The News and “The End Of The Innocence” for Don Henley. Both songs, unsurprisingly, are beautiful piano ballads here in tasteful live versions that demonstrate the songwriting skill as well as the leftist politics of the songwriter. Two songs from the third and final Bruce Hornsby album follow. The first, “Across The River,” is another gorgeous piano ballad with its longing for freedom in the aftermath of failures to leave one’s past behind, and was the last top 40 for Bruce Hornsby to date. Second single “Lost Soul” was a minor hit, and it offers a sad story of someone who didn’t fit in anywhere he went, featuring some lovely duet vocals. The tenth song on this album, and the last by Bruce Hornsby & The Range here, is “Set Me In Motion,” an album track from their second album that was a single for the early 1990’s film “Backdraft,” an upbeat song that is a pleasant enough song if an anticlimactic way to end the career of a hitmaking band. The remainder of the songs are from Hornsby’s solo career. “Fields Of Gray” was a minor hit from “Harbour Lights,” a beautiful piano ballad about devotion and overcoming the sadness of life. “Walk In The Sun” has a similar tone, as a minor hit single from “Hot House,” a beautiful story song about a man in love with a dancing girl. “See The Same Way” is somewhat upbeat but the lyrics are rather heavy-handed and political and it’s not surprising that it was an unsuccessful song as far as popularity goes. “The Good Life” shows Hornsby opining about the sort of things that allow him to enjoy life, and it’s an okay song, but not up to his usual single level. The album ends with a previously unreleased track, “Go Back To Your Woods,” which indicates (correctly) that Hornsby was done trying to get radio hits and would go back to making the sort of music that he wanted to make.

It is unsurprising that in this album most of the strongest songs are at the beginning of the album and the weakest tracks are the last three solo tracks and the live versions of the hits that Hornsby wrote for others. Still, there are a lot of songs on this album that are not as famous as Bruce Hornsby’s biggest hits that are still worth knowing. If you come to this album liking the big hits of Hornsby and want to hear the rest, this album will be easy to enjoy. That doesn’t mean that this album is necessarily going to be everyone’s tastes. In listening to this album, one can understand readily that Bruce Hornsby was a deeply political writer. Whether or not that is something you like or not depends on a lot of factors. I find his politics a bit tedious, unfortunately, but there is not much that can be done about it, as it is a pretty characteristic aspect of his songwriting that all too many people enjoy. Still, if you don’t think too much about his political worldview, his piano playing and strong focus on instrumentation and solid production can still be enjoyed.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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